Emperor gives Matthew Fox of TV’s Lost fame a lead movie role alongside heavyweight actor Tommy Lee Jones. Happily, Fox is up to the task in a movie that examines Japanese culture and American attitudes toward postwar Japan.
Emperor is a dramatization of real life events following the Japanese surrender. The title character is Hirohito and the story revolves around whether the victorious US should hang him for war crimes.
General Douglas MacArthur (played by Jones) orders General Bonner Fellers (played by Fox) to investigate and determine whether the emperor sanctioned the attack at Pearl Harbor or was not involved in decisions made by the country’s political leaders.
Adding an element of interest to the story is Fellers’ old flame, a Japanese woman named Aya (played by Eriko Hatsune) who was an exchange student as his college. When he was stationed in the Philippines in the months before the war, Fellers visited the woman in Japan and fell more deeply in love with her and the country. She is introduced via flashbacks. Fellers has hopes of finding her alive, despite the devastation brought on by US bombing attacks.
Emperor demonstrates a strong respect for Japanese people and shows the devotion the nation’s citizens had for the emperor in 1945. Some of the Japanese characters also acknowledge that they committed barbaric acts during the war. The film presents occupying American military personnel, led by MacArthur, as people intent on helping Japan climb out of the rubble. But first, there are wrongs to be righted.
Upon setting up in Tokyo, the Americans quickly make simultaneous surprise raids on the homes of 29 suspected war criminals. 26 are detained; the others commit suicide. Then after some intense detective work comes Fellers’ report of Hirohito, which leads to a surprising action by MacArthur.
Director Peter Webber does an efficient job of retelling a little-remembered chapter from 20th century history. The characters and the story are interesting and compelling. Emperor is an entertaining, well-made, occasionally emotional, movie for grownups.